For the second consecutive season, the Kansas City Chiefs went to the Super Bowl as the underdogs. They defeated the favored Philadelphia Eagles last season and will try to defeat the favored San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Will it feel like a surprise if Kansas City pulls it off? The Chiefs have the biggest upside in quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is healthier this season than last and has played brilliantly throughout most of the playoffs.
Every year around this time, I ask a group of NFL coaches which team they will pick to win the Super Bowl and why. Our panel did quite well last season, and the first coach correctly picked the Chiefs to win by three.
Four coaches weighed in with their predictions this year. We continue the conversation with a defensive coach’s thoughts on what’s bothering 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy and whether the Chiefs are well-equipped to exploit this specific vulnerability.
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The Fighting Taylor Swifts are playing better defense than the Niners right now, and that could be the difference. San Francisco has to play better defense to win. The 49ers are still dangerous and violent, but they are giving up more yards and plays. I think they’ll play pretty well, but if you ask me inside, I’d still think Kansas City would make it.
Affecting Brock Purdy is one of the most important keys to this game. The teams that give Purdy problems are the ones that can hurt him in the pocketbook. Cleveland was able to do that. Detroit couldn’t affect him that way, but the Chiefs could. They do a very good job raising their hands. That’s a big problem against Brock. They can do a very good job of affecting not only longer throws but also faster throws at all different launch angles.
Purdy’s strength is how strong his lower body is. George Kittle’s quote was really funny when he said that Purdy looks like one of those little water dragons running through the water. This is exactly what Purdy looks like. His legs are very strong. But when you can push the pocket toward his front foot, he fights. It’s hard to get there because sometimes they throw fast, but I think the Chiefs have the ability to do it.
When people get to Purdy’s front foot, the ball drags and drags or drifts. Like the one who threw in the belly of the Packer guy. She couldn’t fully rotate her hips and they floated. Affecting Purdy this way is easier said than done. The 49ers know what they’re doing, and Purdy’s really good, and Kyle’s good at finishing him, but I think the Chiefs with four (rushers) can do that sometimes.
(Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) will pressure and also play his two-high combination coverages. It’s hard to run combination coverages when the 49ers throw everyone out. They have players without position. (Christian) McCaffrey will be a wide receiver, Deebo (Samuel) will be in the backfield and 44 (Kyle Juszczyk) will be everywhere. When you play them in split defense and they can see it and take it out, the matchups can be really good.
The Chiefs don’t always attack well when you have them in space. Steve has done a very good job this year of not allowing that to happen. In other years, you might isolate the boys from him. All of Kyle’s guys are 6-foot-1, 215 and can run after contact with good hands and anger. That would be their advantage if they can find ways to get around the D-line and then get those guys going.
I also think San Francisco will attack the edges in the running game, like Kyle did with Atlanta versus New England in the Super Bowl. If you can move inside Kansas City and force other players besides (Justin) Reid to make tackles, you can do some things. But you have to get around their big ones. I think Kyle will find a way to do it, but I trust the Chiefs a little more.
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No. 1 Defensive Coordinator
This will be a really interesting game because Spags has that defense going and I think it will create problems. They’ll be able to go after Brock Purdy. Spags will come with some good schemes to at least make Purdy think and get off the pace.
The 49ers, that whole team is built on a forward-thinking mentality. When they play with an advantage, they just jump in and they’re better, they’re more athletic, their talent shines through. When they play from behind it is usually different. Against Detroit they came back. I’ll give them credit, but Detroit really screwed up. What happened was not repeatable.
What you have to do with the 49ers is play them early. I would take the ball and try to score. Green Bay did that. I know it’s only 7-0 early and it doesn’t matter, but if you score early, you’re not answering them.
Mahomes will make the right plays when necessary. He has been protecting the ball, something he hadn’t done as much in the first half of the season. People need to honor Rashee Rice now. He has developed. MVS (Márquez Valdés-Scantling) has become more consistent.
The 49ers defense has shown throughout the playoffs that they will get the ball passed to them. They don’t have many answers. You hit their weak spots and don’t let their attackers get going and they don’t get takeaways, you’re fine. The coverage system is not elaborate. They have a good corner and a safety who plays very well.
When you have a guy like Andy Reid in there with Patrick Mahomes, they’re going to find those weak spots. Andy is fine taking 5 (yards) from Travis Kelce on a catch and run. It’s just hard to go against Reid and Mahomes.
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Defensive coordinator No. 2
The better team is probably San Francisco, but the Eagles were probably a better team last year, and it all came down to Patrick Mahomes.
For San Francisco, a big part of it is the flow of the game. Not to say Brock Purdy can’t come from behind. I’m not trying to say that. But I think they are a team that has a much better chance of winning when they play their game, while the Chiefs could find a way to win a little better in any type of game.
That’s what happened in 2019 when those teams played. Kansas City was down two points and all of a sudden they’re up two points in the fourth quarter. It was incredible.
San Francisco came back to beat Green Bay and Detroit, but they were drastically better than those teams, especially Detroit. Detroit is not a team, in my opinion, that can compete with San Francisco. The fact that Detroit couldn’t cancel that game shows how much better San Francisco was as a team.
I could see that San Francisco’s defense was not dominant against the Chiefs. I don’t know if they are a dominant defense like they were with DeMeco Ryans and Robert Saleh. It doesn’t seem like they’re all that. Basically I say Chiefs.
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The 49ers offense is difficult to defend because they have skilled guys who can create yards after the catch and they have a quarterback who can read defenses very quickly and put the ball in a spot with precision. Their throwback game is very time-based, while Kansas City is not.
Mahomes’ ability to play on or off the schedule could make the difference. What makes Mahomes good is that he is a great off-schedule quarterback who doesn’t need to play off-schedule to be great. I always felt like that was the thing with Russell Wilson. When everyone was saying he was great, I felt like to be a high-level quarterback, you still have to be able to throw it on time. Mahomes can do that.
Purdy is not bad after hours because there is something slippery about him. He just doesn’t play as much free time. Mahomes is an elite free timer and I think that’s Kansas City’s advantage.
Surprisingly, Kansas City with (Isiah) Pacheco runs the ball pretty well, and they’ve been more willing to run the ball, and I think that takes some pressure off of Mahomes. He has served his defense well. That has probably made them a more complete team.
San Francisco gave up 280 yards against Detroit in the first half. Maybe they were surprised by Detroit, but they still haven’t figured out how to stop perimeter runs. Pacheco is a slasher, and if you had him on the edge, I think he would be good, despite being more of an inside runner.
Detroit continued to pin down the ends and throw the ball, and the 49ers secondary was slow to support. I’m sure San Francisco will make an adjustment for crack shooting plays. They just need to get someone to provide support faster. It’s not a major adjustment, but they’ll probably be reluctant to make it because of Mahomes.
I like Kansas City. I’d like to like San Francisco, but I think in these games the quarterback matchup is pretty big and there’s a big separation between these guys.
Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel, those two guys might be enough to overcome that, but I don’t think so in this game.
If the 49ers win, surely someone associated with their team will say that no one gave them a chance. It won’t be a big difference, even though bettors favor the 49ers, because many people in and around the game are choosing the Chiefs. I chose Kansas City by a 24-20 margin in our personnel picks. It wasn’t so much a pick against the 49ers as a fear of picking against Mahomes. I’ve been by his side every week of the playoffs. Why stop now?
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(Top photos of Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy: Patrick Smith, Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)